First African-American woman novelist revisited

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2015-07-23 02:24Z by Steven

First African-American woman novelist revisited

Harvard University Gazette
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ken Gewertz, Harvard News Office

Harriet Wilson was a survivor. Now we have proof.

Wilson wrote “Our Nig; or Sketches From the Life of A Free Black,” the earliest known novel by an African-American woman. It tells the story of Frado, a young biracial girl born in freedom in New Hampshire who becomes an indentured servant to a tyrannical and abusive white woman. In 1859, when the book was published, the abolitionist movement had created a vogue among Northern readers for autobiographies of escaped slaves, but Wilson’s story of a free black abused by her Northern employer did not fit the established mold, and the novel soon fell into obscurity.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, found a copy of the novel in a used bookstore in the early 1980s and was intrigued by it. Among those specialists who were aware of the book, many doubted whether it was really the work of a black writer, but Gates wondered why anyone in 1859 would identify herself as black unless she were.

He started searching for evidence of Wilson’s existence and eventually succeeded in documenting her life up to 1863. The facts he uncovered closely resembled the events in the life of the novel’s protagonist. Gates, who published his findings in a 1983 edition of the novel, concluded that Wilson must have died around the time the historical trail went cold.

Now evidence has surfaced showing that Wilson survived almost another 40 years, demonstrating in other areas of endeavor the resilience and creativity that allowed her to try her hand at writing.

P. Gabrielle Foreman, associate professor of English and American Studies at Occidental College in California, and Reginald Pitts, a historical researcher and genealogical consultant, spoke Friday (March 18) about information they have uncovered about the latter half of Wilson’s life. The event was sponsored by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research and the Department of African and African American Studies. Foreman and Pitts have incorporated their research into an introduction to a new edition of Wilson’s novel (Penguin Classics, 2005)…

Read the entire article here.

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Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2015-07-23 02:13Z by Steven

Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black

Penguin Press
2009 (First published in 1859)
176 pages
Paperback ISBN: 9780143105763
Ebook ISBN: 9781440649141

Harriet E. Wilson (1825-1900)

Introduction and Notes by:

P. Gabrielle Foreman, Ned B. Allen Professor of English
University of Delaware

Reginald Pitts

For the 150th anniversary of its first publication, a new edition of the pioneering African-American classic, reflecting groundbreaking discoveries about its author’s life

First published in 1859, Our Nig is an autobiographical narrative that stands as one of the most important accounts of the life of a black woman in the antebellum North. In the story of Frado, a spirited black girl who is abused and overworked as the indentured servant to a New England family, Harriet E. Wilson tells a heartbreaking story about the resilience of the human spirit. This edition incorporates new research showing that Wilson was not only a pioneering African-American literary figure but also an entrepreneur in the black women’s hair care market fifty years before Madame C. J. Walker’s hair care empire made her the country’s first woman millionaire.

Read the book at Project Gutenberg here.

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Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Posted in Anthologies, Arts, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2012-07-19 00:55Z by Steven

Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Duke University Press
400 pages
71 photographs
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-5085-9
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5067-5

Edited by:

Maurice O. Wallace, Associate Professor of English and African & African American Studies
Duke University

Shawn Michelle Smith, Associate Professor of Visual and Critical Studies
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography’s power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or “snapshots,” highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

Contributors. Michael A. Chaney, Cheryl Finley, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Ginger Hill, Leigh Raiford, Augusta Rohrbach, Ray Sapirstein, Suzanne N. Schneider, Shawn Michelle Smith, Laura Wexler, Maurice O. Wallace

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Pictures and Progress / Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith
  • 1. “A More Perfect Likeness”: Frederick Douglass and the Image of the Nation / Laura Wexler
  • 2. “Rightly Viewed”: Theorizations of the Self in Frederick Douglass’s Lecture on Pictures / Ginger Hill
  • 3. Shadow and Substance: Sojourner Truth in Black and White / Augusta Rohrbach
    • Snapshot 1. Unredeemed Realities: Augustus Washington / Shawn Michelle Smith
  • 4. Mulatta Obscura: Camera Tactics and Linda Brent / Michael Chaney
  • 5. Who’s Your Mama?: “White” Mulatta Genealogies, Early Photography, and Anti-Passing Narratives of Slavery and Freedom / P. Gabrielle Foreman
  • 6. Out from Behind the Mask: Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Hampton Institute Camera Club, and Photographic Performance of Identity / Ray Sapirstein
    • Snapshot 2. Reproducing Black Masculinity: Thomas Askew / Shawn Michelle Smith
  • 7. Louis Agassiz and the American School of Ethnoeroticism: Polygenesis, Pornography, and Other “Perfidious Influences” / Suzanne Schneider
  • 8. Framing the Black Soldier: Image, Uplift, and the Duplicity of Pictures / Maurice O. Wallace
    • Snapshot 3. Unfixing the Frame(-up): A. P. Bedou / Shawn Michelle Smith
  • 9. “Looking at One’s Self through the Eyes of Others”: W. E. B. Du Bois’s Photographs for the Paris Exposition of 1900 / Shawn Michelle Smith
  • 10. Ida B. Wells and the Shadow Archive / Leigh Raiford
    • Snapshot 4. The Photographer’s Touch: J. P. Ball / Shawn Michelle Smith
  • 11. No More Auction Block for Me! / Cheryl Finley
  • Bibliography
  • Contributors
  • Index
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Harriet Wilson’s New England: Race, Writing, and Region

Posted in Anthologies, Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2009-11-03 22:31Z by Steven

Harriet Wilson’s New England: Race, Writing, and Region

University of New Hampshire Press
University Press of New England
272 pp. 18 B&W illus., 4 appendixes 6 x 9″
Paper ISBN: 978-1-58465-642-5
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-58465-641-8

Edited by

JerriAnne Boggis, Director
Harriet Wilson Project

Eve Allegra Raimon, Associate Professor of Arts and Humanities
University of Southern Maine

Barbara A. White, Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies
University of New Hampshire

Forward by

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W. E. B. Dubois Professor of the Humanities
Harvard University

This volume, with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., advances efforts to correct the historical record about the racial complexity and richness characteristic of rural New England’s past.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Harriet E. Wilson, an enterprising woman of mixed racial heritage, wrote an autobiographical novel describing the abuse and servitude endured by a young black girl in the supposedly free North. Originally published in Boston in 1859 and “lost” until its 1983 republication by noted scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, is generally considered the first work of fiction written by an African American woman published in the United States.

With this collection, the first devoted entirely to Wilson and her novel, the editors have compiled essays that seek to understand Wilson within New England and New England as it might have appeared to Wilson and her contemporaries. The contributors include prominent historians, literary critics, psychologists, librarians, and diversity activists. Harriet Wilson’s New England joins other critical works in the emerging field known as the New Regionalism in resurrecting historically hidden ethnic communities in rural New England and exploring their erasure from public memory. It offers new literary and historical interpretations of Our Nig and responds to renewed interest in Wilson’s dramatic account of servitude and racial discrimination in the North.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword – Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Making Space for Harriet E. Wilson
    • Of Bottles and Books: Reconsidering the Readers of Harriet Wilson’s “Our Nig” – Eric Gardner
    • Harriet Wilson’s Mentors: The Walkers of Worcester – Barbara A. White
    • George and Timothy Blanchard: Surviving and Thriving in Nineteenth-Century Milford – Reginald H. Pitts
    • “As Soon as I Saw My Sable Brother, I Felt More at Home”: Sampson Battis, Harriet Wilson, and New Hampshire Town History – David H. Watters
    • New Hampshire Forgot: African Americans in a Community by the Sea – Valerie Cunningham
    • Slavery’s Shadows: Narrative Chiaroscuro and “Our Nig” – Mary Louise Kete
    • Recovered Autobiographies and the Marketplace: “Our Nig’s” Generic Genealogies and Harriet Wilson’s Entrepreneurial Enterprise – P. Gabrielle Foreman
    • The Disorderly Girl in Harriet E. Wilson’s “Our Nig” – Lisa E. Green
    • Beyond the Page: Rape and the Failure of Genre – Cassandra Jackson
    • Miss Marsh’s Uncommon School Reform – Eve Allegra Raimon
    • Fairy Tales and “Our Nig”: Feminist Approaches to Teaching Harriet Wilson’s Novel – Helen Frink
    • Losing Equilibrium: Harriet E. Wilson, Frado, and Me – John Ernest
    • Discovering Harriet Wilson in My Own Backyard – William Allen
    • A Conversation with Tami Sanders – Gloria Henry
    • Not Somewhere Else, But Here – JerriAnne Boggis
  • Contributors
  • Index
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Who’s Your Mama? “White” Mulatta Genealogies, Early Photography, and Anti-Passing Narratives of Slavery and Freedom

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Women on 2009-11-02 14:29Z by Steven

Who’s Your Mama? “White” Mulatta Genealogies, Early Photography, and Anti-Passing Narratives of Slavery and Freedom

American Literary History
Volume 14, Number 3 (Fall 2002)
DOI: 10.1093/alh/14.3.505
pages 505-359

P. Gabrielle Foreman, Professor of English and American Studies
Occidental College

Partus sequitur ventrem.
The child follows the condition of the mother.

US slave law and custom

If we shift from a politics of substance to a politics of optics, identity itself no longer possesses the reassuring signs of ontological distinction that we are accustomed to reading.
Amy Robinson

The right to see and be seen, in one’s own way and under one’s own terms, has been the point of contention.
Laura Wexler

1. Passing For or Passing Through?

“Passing” for white, and the representational strategies some phenotypically indeterminate African-American women used to claim privileges granted to whites, name phenomena as different as night and day. Examination of the assumptions about racial aspirations that occupy the space between the two illuminates how paradigms that trump expressed and expressive black female will and agency circulate both in the nineteenth century and in current literary criticism. Mulatto/a-ness as a representational trope often designates a discursive mobility and simultaneity that can raise questions of racial epistemology, while it also functions as a juridical term that constrains citizenship by ante- and postbellum law and force. The women I examine in this essay use their own bodies to challenge such constraints by expressing a desire, not for whiteness, but for familial and juridical relations in which partus sequitur ventrem produces freedom rather than enslavement for African Americans, light and dark.

Many contemporary scholars, however, deploy “white mulatto/a genealogies,” a term I use not to describe the lighter shades of a politically determined African-American racial classification but to highlight an overemphasis on patrilineal descent and an identification with and projection of white desire that continually revisits the paternal and the patriarchal, the phallic and juridical Law of the (white) Father. Russ Castronovo exemplifies such configurations in Fathering the Nation: American Genealogies of Slavery and Freedom (1995) when he asserts “texts by ex-slaves prohibit the restoration of any genealogical line, suggesting that only in the discontinuity and disorder of bastard histories does remembering properly construct freedom” (193); he goes on to assert that “the slave’s genealogy–both as personal history and as national critique—. . . recontextualizes freedom from plenitude and promise to a narrative of lack and deferral” (200). Others, like Lauren Berlant, offer considerations of undifferentiated “mulatta genealogies” that examine racial mixtures in unspecified and unsituated ways. Eric Sundquist’s important To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature (1993) enacts a more explicit erasure of black female agency by offering a (masculinist) nationalist paradigm that enacts and encourages readings of race in the nineteenth century as if women did not have a voice…

Read the entire article and view the illustrations here.

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